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5 key principles to a seamless omnichannel strategy
The internet and the more recent rise of mobile devices have sparked a retail revolution.
Twenty years ago, if I had wanted to read a certain book, I would’ve likely made my way to the closest high-street retailer to peruse its well-stocked shelves, before paying the full RRP and returning home. Fast forward to the 2010s, and this process can be rather different.
Firstly, with a smartphone in hand, I’m able to find a wealth of information about the product I’m interested in, before being given a list of potential suppliers – often ranked by reliability and item price. Then, I have to choose what to do next. Do I make the traditional trip to the bricks-and-mortar store down the road, knowing they’ll have it in stock at a certain price? Arrange for it to be delivered to my house the very next day? Or bid for it on eBay? Failing that, considering it’s a book, I’ll just download it instantly and be done thinking about the physical product. If a few questions arise when I’m doing all this – I can ask the seller about their returns policy, or even the publisher for more product details.
None of this is restricted to the smartphone either – I could do exactly the same on a PC or on a tablet. What I’m trying to get at is that shopping, while much easier for the consumer, is no longer a straightforward concept. Businesses should realise that there’s now more power than ever in the hands of the connected consumer, so they must act accordingly – all with the following five principles for a seamless omnichannel strategy in mind
Omnichannel – or multi-channel – as the names suggest, involves consumers having various channels through which they can interact with and purchase from retail businesses. Of course, you’ve got the bricks-and-mortar stores consumers are traditionally used to, but now there are also social media pages, e-commerce sites and email channels which can be used to engage with customers. You then have a variety of devices: desktops, notebooks, smartphones and tablets - some of the most obvious examples. It’s a lot to think about, but all of these channels must work in harmony and seamlessly. If contact is made through Facebook, it should be reflected in the user’s online account. If I update my basket through the mobile app, I expect to see this action reflected on the main website. For many brands, the online and store experiences are completely separate with separate systems and even separate organisational structures, leading to a disjointed customer experience.
Sticking with the theme of regularity, retailers need to ensure there’s a certain level of consistency across their services. This comes down to the tone of written content and even the level of customer service offered through each channel. Essentially, treat everything as a single service – not separate departments. For example, your social team should be integrated with those controlling your website, and the designers you use should be involved across all channels and at every stage to ensure the company’s brand image is conveyed consistently.
The odd wandering drinker aside, high streets tend to be pretty quiet places at night. The days are gone, however, when I’d have to stop browsing and buying as soon as the shutters come down at 5:30pm. Instead, I can turn to the smartphone in my pocket, or the computer at home, and shop to my heart’s content for as long as I like. Much to my credit card’s displeasure, my bargain-hunting adventures can continue wherever I am. Whether on the train, in the pub, sat in the dentist’s waiting room or even in the bath! Businesses that can’t cater for this around-the-clock audience will, without any doubt, fall behind their competitors.
The walls that once existed between businesses and their customers have been removed by technology. Sites like Twitter and Facebook in particular have made it easy for consumers to contact brands as and when they need or want to, without having to invest any time, effort or money. More than this, they expect responses immediately – and they should be given them. Customer service has always been important, but with shoppers now given more choice than ever before, it’s paramount to retail success.
Comprehensive, round-the-clock customer service is not only crucial to shopper satisfaction, it’s great for marketing – especially when it’s provided publicly over social media. Word of mouth is an extremely powerful tool, but bear in mind that disapproval spreads just as fast as advocacy.
As mentioned above, the retail sector isn’t as simple as it used to be. Having all of these channels open, however, does create certain data-harvesting opportunities. Simply put, the more a company knows about its customers , the better it is able to meet their needs. With the right analytics and business intelligence tools to hand, firms could use the information coming through social media pages and websites more proactively to help them build valuable relationships and sell more. By making insight-driven decisions instead of just going on hunches or trends, you’ll be ready to use personalised communications to succeed where your competitors may fail.
The term ‘omnichannel retail’ might seem a little daunting to some, but I can’t stress just how many exciting opportunities this revolution creates for the businesses involved. Embrace the shift with open arms using the 3 I’s of “Innovate, Invest and Incorporate*” – bearing in mind the above five principles – and you’ll be well on your way to improving your customers’ experiences and reaping greater returns.